I keep going back and forth on some of Melancholia’s major elements, seeing its flaws and quickly excusing them. The montage at the prologue drags on although it does set this awe-inspiring tone. I could have done away with the wedding between Justine (Kirsten Dunst) and Michael (Alexander Skarsgard), as if Lars’ heroines should only jump steep hurdles. But it’s something that family members, like her sister Claire (Charlotte Gainsbourg) and the latter’s husband John (Kiefer Sutherland), can put against her throat. He justifies showing the monster within a beautiful woman, planning a pretty wedding in a castle only to tear it down.
Lars decides to focus on the major characters, all of whom have their vindictive moments but can’t be judged as entirely loathsome. Justine hides her emotions but has a way of showing them. Von Trier’s direction chooses abandoned ways, without relying on Oscar-bait portrayals of insanity. Dunst’s Justine shows her versatility, being one of two performances I’ve ever seen where an actress can switch emotions without changing facial expressions. In some scenes she behaves with the discomforting yet familiar rock-like stasis of a depressive. These transitions are slow but we can’t look away.
Meanwhile, Claire shows varying degrees of patience towards Justine and her anxieties about the rogue planet, also called Melancholia, speeding towards the earth. Her less internal symptoms match Justine’s, their wavelengths affirming their sisterhood. And John – his neck veins were popping at the wedding scene but he also pays the most attention to his son- the most optimistic one about the planet’s trajectory as well as being supportive when it comes to his wife’s neuroses.
Tempers flare yet compassion appears, the planet’s ‘dance of death’ towards the earth is symbolic of these emotional permutations. All are arguably insane, depression coming to them in waves yet with devastating intensity, their mental states shaking their foundations.
Despite its anticlimax and the nothingness that follows, the movie continually lingers.